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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gun Control Heads Range of Issues

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. elections will settle a number of issues aside from which party controls the House and Senate.

Most prominent is the fight that pits the gun lobby against supporters of gun control legislation passed by Congress in the last two years. Other key issues include immigration in California, doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon and gambling and limiting terms of elected officials in several states.

The 103rd U.S. Congress has been criticized for what it has not accomplished, but it did pass the most significant gun control legislation since 1968: a ban on military-style assault weapons and a waiting period for handgun purchases. The anti-crime measures have helped shape House and Senate races across the nation.

The gun lobby has set its sights on getting even with supporters of the assault-weapons ban -- the so-called Brady law on handgun control -- including such prominent lawmakers as House Speaker Thomas Foley, Democrat of Washington; House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks, Democrat of Texas; and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser, Democrat of Tennessee.

The National Rifle Association, trying to demonstrate that its reputed power remains intact, has spent more than $350,000 in Tennessee in an independent effort to defeat Sasser and Representative Jim Cooper, the Democratic candidate for an open Senate seat.

The threat of 3 million National Rifle Association members casting single-issue votes looms larger in an off-year election, when voter turnout usually is lower than in a presidential election.

"From our perspective, our members are energized as never before," said Tanya Metaksa, the NRA's chief lobbyist.

The NRA has spent several million dollars, overwhelmingly to support Republican congressional candidates.

The assaults have not gone unanswered.

Handgun Control Inc. has tried to compensate for its much smaller budget and membership with favorable public opinion and an emotional symbol: James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was disabled in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

The group has about 400,000 members and has given less than $200,000 to congressional candidates, according to Robert Walker, its legislative director.

James and Sarah Brady have made television ads and stumped across the country for a number of gun control supporters.

Aside from gun control, state voters will decide 237 issues. Taxes and bond issues are perennial fixtures on ballots, and 14 states offer tax propositions this year. The most radical among them, in Oregon, Missouri and Montana, would require voter approval of any new taxes.

Of the scores of proposals on ballots this week, none seems to have riled more people in more places this election season than Proposition 187 in California, which deals with immigration.It would deny illegal immigrants schooling, social services and non-emergency health care. And it would require police, health and education workers to report anyone even suspected of living illegally in the country to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The measure, touching as it does upon racism, economics and fear, has angered Mexicans, provoked student walkouts in Southern California and mesmerized Europeans struggling with immigration worries of their own.

Most of all, Proposition 187 has exposed Americans' deep ambivalence about keeping the doors open for more newcomers.

Also in California, Philip Morris Co. and other cigarette makers have spent about $14 million pitching a ballot measure to weaken workplace smoking restrictions set to take effect Jan. 1.

Measures to limit the number of terms some elected officials may serve appear on ballots in eight states and numerous cities and small towns.

Voters in 10 states will also consider all kinds of legalized gambling from casinos to riverboats.

The continuing tug-of-war over whether homosexuals need formal legal protection from bigotry and bias produced three anti-gay rights measures, in Oregon, Idaho and a Florida county.